Tag Archives: Facebook

Once More to the Breach

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Mark Herring, Dean of Library Services at Winthrop University.

Summer’s over, I know, but we must go once more to the breach of web privacy. A California librarian recently complained about Amazon’s new Kindle ebooks lending program for libraries. The complaint focuses on Amazon’s privacy policy and advertising. In a ten minute video (the transcript of which is here), the librarian argues that in our hasty “greed” to get books into the hand of readers, librarians violated one of our sacred trusts: privacy protection. Amazon keeps a record of all books lent on Kindles via corporate servers. This information is later used like it is on the website, both to recommend new titles and of course advertise products by selling that information elsewhere. While the story was picked up in the library press and on Slashdot, it wasn’t widely publicized, at least not to the extent of the story of Amazon’s lending program. The reason why is simple: web privacy is now a non-starter.

This isn’t the first such story about Web privacy (or lack thereof), and it is not likely to be the last. But it is a non-issue and will remain so as far as cyberspace extends. It’s not as if we weren’t warned.

As long as go as 1999, in a widely publicized story (perhaps forgotten now?), Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, told a group that the issue of privacy on the Web was a “red herring” (no relation by the way). McNealy went on to say that “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” McNealy wasn’t the only one to argue in this manner, and neither is Amazon the only company with a patent disregard for privacy. Frankly, any company or social network on the Web puts privacy on low priority. Don’t get me wrong. Privacy isn’t an absolute right. I can think of times when not disclosing someone’s shenanigans would border on the criminal. But our patrons should be able to do basic library business without being hounded.

To be sure, the strength of the poisoned privacy varies among various Web apothecaries. With Facebook rapidly approaching one billion users, only a tiny minority remain who can care about privacy. Only last year Zuckerberg reminded all of us that “the age of privacy is over.” At the time, some saw this as an about-face. But anyone who followed Facebook helter-skelter knew otherwise. James Grimmelmann remarked once that of all the social networks, Facebook had the best privacy statement, and it was awful.

But I like the way Zuckerberg phrased it because I think it sums up nicely where we are about the Web and privacy. It’s a brave new world, and those not yet on board are from another, older and quite possibly, flat one. This was never made clearer to me than a few years ago.

I had the distinct pleasure to visit MIT in 2009 and learn of new web-related inventions in the proverbial “pipeline.” Amid our somewhat graying profession were these twentysomethings, naturally, all exceedingly bright. Some of what we saw has already come to pass, while others remain in development. There were toys, apps, and so on. But what really caught my eye was a broach or lapel pin.

This pin, our attractive, late twentysomething, explained to us, made certain you never forgot a name or a face again. I’m terrible with names, so naturally I perked up even more. When you approach a person, she said, the pin casts his or her “vitals” on their chest, visible to you but not to them. Commonly known things, she said, like age, marital status, number of children, where they work, recent vacations or even recent accomplishments. This way, she told us cheerfully, you’re never at a loss what to talk about. You know, how are the kids, is Peter enjoying Harvard, and how was the vacation in the Caymans?

Several of us, all over 50, let out an audible gasp. But isn’t that a violation of privacy, we asked, almost in unison. Oh, no, she reassured us. It’s all on the Web anyway. And then she said something that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. When asked about the ethics of it all, she replied, again cheerily, “Those are issues taken up by another department. We don’t really engage in the ethics part of it.” And that’s when I knew. We are of a different age because even the developers no longer think about these things, assuming they once did. Ethics will ponder that matter and get back to you. But don’t call us; we’ll call you.

None of us want to remain fully anonymous, but many of us–at least those of us over 50–would prefer to remain somewhat private. Not anymore. Everything we are or hope to be, whether true or not, is on the Web; and someone is or will be making use of it. In this brave new world, we all live our lives on the backs of so many digital postcards that travel the globe daily.

This isn’t about going back, or trying to recapture the genie or clean up the toothpaste. Those days are over. Rather this is about how we librarians have become students of change and must now weigh those changes regularly. As the Web changes books, it also changes the libraries that house them. And so McLuhan was right after all: We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.

And so here we are, once more to the breach. Habent sua fata libelli: books have their fates. The only question that remains today is this one: is this the fate we want for them, for our libraries?

Personal Content Capitalism

I’ve been hearing less and less about Google+ lately, the social network launched by the search giant over the summer. I can’t comment on its functionality because I haven’t tried it; while I’m interested, I’ve got a couple of big projects going on and don’t have the bandwidth right now for an additional flavor of social media. However, my partner is on Google+ and recently let me know that he added me to a circle. I have a Google account and use lots of other Google services, but feels weird that people I know can add me to Google+ circles even though I’m not using the service.

It’s worth thinking about the way social media and internet services are monetizing (or trying to monetize) our personal content. Like many librarians and academics I rely on these services frequently, though I’ve lately begun to question whether the advantages and convenience that they provide are worth it. Last month the professional social networking website LinkedIn retreated from an earlier decision to include photographs from their users’ profile pages in ads for the service. This was just the latest in what seems to be an ever-increasing number of news items about social media companies that push their users’ comfort levels with privacy a bit to far.

A few months ago I quit Facebook because I was concerned that their privacy policies are growing evermore fluid at the same time that everyone seems to be using it to post information about events, photos, etc. Every time I commented on a friend’s wall or uploaded a picture of my kid I felt like I wasn’t getting nearly as much out of my end of the relationship as Facebook was from me. I have to admit, though, that I do miss the easy access to information from a wide range of folks I know from many stages of my life.

Like Facebook, Google uses our personal content to sell ads. Of course, selling internet ads is Google’s whole business: we are Google’s product, and the longer Google can keep us online, the more money they can make selling ads. I don’t use Gmail because I have another email provider. But I’m a heavy user of other Google services. I keep my personal schedule in Google Calendar because at our library we use it for our internal scheduling. I use Docs to collaborate with colleagues everywhere: in my library (though we are shifting to an internal wiki for much of that), with colleagues across the university system where I work, and with long-distance collaborators. And checking in with Google Reader is a staple of my daily routine.

But lately I’m reconsidering all of the personal content I’ve willingly given to internet services. I’m not sure how to ramp down my use of these tools that I’ve become so dependent on, especially given the number of people I work and communicate with who use the same tools. What’s the appropriate balance of control over our personal content and convenient, useful services? And how should we help guide students in making these same decisions?

Thinking About ‘The Filter Bubble’

This month’s post in our series of guest academic librarian bloggers is by Jessica Hagman, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Ohio University. She blogs at Jess in Ohio.

Last fall, I taught a one-credit learning community seminar. During the week where we discussed research and library resources, I showed the class this video from Google, describing how the search engine works. I suspected that most students had no idea how links come to the top of a Google search results page and no basis on which to begin evaluating the results beyond page rank, a suspicion confirmed by research from the Web Use Project (previously discussed here on ACRLog).

Yet, when I asked whether the video surprised them or if the search engine process was different than they had previously thought, I heard the proverbial crickets. Finally, one student spoke up with a shrug, “I guess I’ve just never thought about it before.” While I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that few students spent time thinking about the mechanics of Google, it was startling to hear it stated so clearly.

I thought about this comment again a few weeks ago when I ran across a link to Eli Pariser’s TED Talk “Beware Online Filter Bubbles.” In the talk and his new book elaborating on the subject Pariser argues that companies like Facebook and Google use the data we share online to build a personalized bubble around each person in which they only encounter information, news and links that confirm their already established world view and assumptions. And while the bubble is pervasive, it is mostly invisible.

After watching the talk, my thoughts turned to the undergraduate researcher writing about a contentious social issue like gun control or abortion whose browser history limits the scope of the results they see on Google. I’ve discussed Google searching in many library instruction sessions, but it’s usually been to point out the poor quality of some of the search results and to encourage students to look beyond the first link. Starting in the fall, I will mention the personalization of search results as well, so that students are at least aware that their search results reflect more than just the keywords they searched.

The implications of the filter bubble may go beyond the research for a freshman composition paper, however. In the later chapters of his book, Pariser argues that the pervasiveness of filter bubbles may hinder learning, creativity, innovation, political dialogue, and even make us more susceptible to manipulative advertising. It’s difficult to discuss these consequences in a one-shot library instruction session, but to know that the bubble exists is a powerful first step to escaping it when necessary.

I will be teaching the learning community seminar again this fall, and this year I will show them Pariser’s talk. While I think it’s important that they be aware of personalized search and its potential implications, I’m also very curious to hear what students think about personalized search and a world of filtered information. While they may not have spent much time thinking about Google in the past, I hope that seeing the video will encourage them to think about how their own search history and browsing data affect what see – or do not see – online.

Facebook or Facadebook?

From time to time a discussion on a list such as ILI-L generates a post so intriguing that I think it deserves a wider audience. (Not that ILI-L doesn’t have a wide audience; it has over 4,700 members!) I was so struck by Camilla Baker’s comments on Facebook – especially how her mayor uses it, as a real person, not an office – that I asked her to write a guest post for ACRLog. Thanks to Camilla for taking me up on it! –Barbara Fister

Facebook or Facadebook? My Ediface Complex
by Camilla Baker
Reese Library/Augusta State University

For the past three years or so, there has been on and off discussion of social networks on ili-l@ala.org. The thrust of these discussions has usually had to do with how academic libraries can exploit Facebook/MySpace/Whatever to connect with college students. It used to be that corporate entities couldn’t have presence on Facebook. You had to be a person. But, some of those restrictions now have workarounds of various types. A common thread with most of these discussions, including the one last week (4/20-4/24), was whether it is appropriate for ’authority figures’ to be on these social networks, and whether students welcome our presence in their playground.

I’d like to talk about the ‘authority figures not welcome’ part of the last Facebook thread. It’s not all authority figures, it’s just the ones that individual students don’t know. The friending issue is pretty literal. Students will want to friend people that — hold on to your hats — they’re already friends with. If the university library can’t get students in the door under their own steam, they’re not going to get them on Facebook, either.

Now, having said that, I have a couple of anecdotes to share.

1) I’ve been a librarian for 30 years, so I’m not a native member of the e-generation; to them, I’m old. All my e-knowledge has been learned as an adult. I have two sons, 18 and 20. Back in ’06 when they were both in high school, they were the ones who encouraged me to join Facebook, and they were my first friends. For the first several years, my Fb friend base was composed largely of my birth children, my virtual children, and their friends. And, yes, I know you aren’t supposed to be friends with your children, but in this particular environment, it mostly works. Just like cell phone use, which I resisted for years, it’s another amazingly easy way to stay in touch with them. Now, parents are authority figures, right? But it’s a different kind of authority. Our Facebook relationships are completely personal. They all know I work at a university where a number of them are enrolled, but I’m Mom or Mama Baker, not the Library Instruction Coordinator that some of them see in the classroom. It’s only been within the last year or so that adults of my acquaintance have starting joining up. Some are the parents of the young adults that I’ve had in my friends list for the past three years, and some of them are my colleagues. This segues into the next anecdote.

2) I’m a friend — on Facebook — of the mayor of Augusta, Ga. In governance-speak, that’s an authority figure, too. But this particular mayor is forward-thinking, and several months ago started a campaign to recruit as many people as he could to his friends list, sort of like 1,000,000 Strong for Stephen Colbert, but small, local, and not so snarky. He’s not up for re-election this year, either. I don’t think he’d know me if he passed me on the street, but he posts links to articles in local and national media about the city, websites of local businesses and non-profits, data about the economy, etc. Not a day goes by that I don’t get an update, usually more than one. And, when I got a copy of a report about the positive impact of the university system on the economy of the state, with some local economic data for color, I shared it with him, and he posted that, too. Here’s the thing: I’m not ‘friends’ with the Office of the Mayor, which is how I’d have to deal with him in a strictly analog world. I’m friends with the guy who holds the office. He’s not trying to be a corporate entity, he’s trying to connect with his constituents in a different way, as individuals. The argument could certainly be made that he’s only connecting with those who share his views already, but that could be said of just about any politician.

My point is, if you want Facebook to ‘work’ for you, at some point you have to give in and be a person first. I really do think that’s what’s it’s intended for, and how it’s best exploited. If you have students you are truly friendly with, let them know you’re a Facebooker, and see what happens. Hey, it beats getting friend requests from “mature single writer,” whose only interest in a library is as a market for his unsold work – don’t laugh, I’ve seen library friend lists on MySpace populated with just such as these. It’s difficult to imagine institutions having social lives, and in a social network environment, the social life is king. I realize that many public, and a few academic, libraries have Friends with a capital F, but those serve a different purpose than to notice that you changed your profile picture or relationship status, or that you posted the latest pictures of your baby/puppy/car to share with your friends, or that you think you did well on your final exam (I always respond to those). That’s not a role that libraries can share. Librarians can, but you have to be a friend first.

Creepy Treehouse

I’ve just learned a new technology term – “creepy treehouse.” I first heard the term via an article in Inside Higher Ed on Blackboard building an application so it can be accessed from Facebook.

In doing so, the company is implicitly conceding that students are less inclined to flip through Blackboard pages to kill a few spare minutes. “This is specifically to take advantage of the fact that college students spend a tremendous amount of time on Facebook,” said Karen Gage, Blackboard’s vice president of product strategy. “I think that what we know is that socializing with your friends is more fun than studying.”

Well, duh.

“Let’s face it,” the app’s introduction page says. “You would live on Facebook if you could. Imagine a world where you could manage your entire life from Facebook — it’s not that far off!”

Oh, I can’t wait. Why would I ever want to leave Facebook for even one minute?

“You have to access a different system to get your course information and you don’t always know when something new has been posted or assigned, so it’s difficult for you to stay on top of your studies.” (Only if your face is so constantly stuck in Facebook that you don’t have a life.) “We get it. That’s why Blackboard is offering Blackboard Syncâ„¢, an application that delivers course information and updates from Blackboard to you inside Facebook.”

Okay, maybe that actually sounds kind of helpful, being able to push readings and assignments to a place where students can be reminded of them. But I was mostly struck by one of the comments on the article: “This is creepy treehouse.”

A creepy treehouse is a place built by scheming adults to lure in kids. Kids tend to sense there’s something creepy about that treehouse and avoid it. Hence, a new definition: “Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.”

It’s an interesting take on that vaguely unsettled response we sometimes get from students when we try to be too cool, try too hard to seem fun and playful, when we make familiar toys unpalatably “educational.” Setting up an outpost in an attractive playspace with an ulterior motive is just . . . creepy.

And maybe students want a different space when they’re working. On our campus students come to the library to study. They like being surrounded by books, they like the sense that this place is different than their dorm room. Sure, they goof off and check their Facebook profile and sometimes catch a few z’s. But when they’re working, they enjoy being in a place that dignifies their work, and they like the ambiance of seriousness, one that connects their work with a larger purpose. They’re writing about ideas in space filled with words and ideas, and they become connected. It’s a very different kind of social network, one where they become part of an age-old conversation.

This is not to say this academic conversation is not playful – we learn by playing, and at its best, our learning is play. Philosopher Michael Oakeshott said it well in his essay, “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind.”

In its participation in the conversation each voice learns to be playful, learns to understand itself as a voice among voices. As with children, who are great conversationalists, the playfulness is serious and the seriousness in the end is only play.

Maybe the library itself is a place for that form of play, once students get clued into the fact they can join the conversation. Then we won’t have to build a creepy treehouse to entice them in.

photo courtesy of noricum

Some of this post was previously published at infofluency.